chapter  43
6 Pages

HENRY THEODORE TUCKERMAN, from ‘Mr. Thackeray as a Novelist’, Christian Examiner, January 1856

The significance of a work is to be estimated by the final impression, the positive tenor, and not according to an arbitrary infusion of mitigating sentiment. Thus Mr. Abbott fails to obviate the glorification of Bonaparte in his so-called Life of that remarkable man, by the occasional insertion of an evasive disclaimer, as, for instance, ‘Such are the horrors of war!’1 And in ascribing to Mr. Thackeray’s writings a tone and morale which has the effect of a lamentable disenchantment of life, and an unphilosophical exaltation of worldliness as a subject of literary art, we are not insensible to the frequent and clear intermingling of ‘glimpses that make us less forlorn.’ Ethel’s repentance, the Colonel’s reconciliation with his son and final resignation and forgiveness, Madame de Florac’s constancy and her son’s filial love, the benevolent activity of Mr. Pendennis, J.J.’s devotion to Clive, the sweet pathos of Thomas Newcome’s exit, and many other soft, humane, and benign episodes, lessen the harshness of the satire, and brighten the record of inanities and violence. But these are exceptions only, and for the most part indifferently conceived. The talent of the Newcomes is reserved for its ironical sketches; the final impression is such as we have described, the actual lesson is not one that exalts or cheers; ‘the show of things’ is not conformed ‘to the desires of the mind,’ nor is emotion sublimated by ‘terror and pity.’ Some of the maxims scattered through the narrative are worthy of Rochefoucauld: ‘What a man has to do in society is to assert himself’; ‘The pleasure of life is to live with your inferiors’; ‘I believe what are called broken hearts are very rare articles indeed’; ‘The sarcastic dodge is the best.’